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Thursday, May 6, 2004 03:06 am

Prairie Notes 5-6-04

art1039

One of the best things about warm weather is setting up the grill and watching the kids play in the yard. Naturally, we want our lawns to look good and be safe places to roll around in -- especially if you happen to be young enough to do that without . . . aftereffects.

Lawns -- essentially monocultural environments, which are generally not found in nature -- usually require a little help from us to stay in top condition. Setting up a compost pile will generate the best imaginable, free fertilizer, provide a place to put all those leaves in the fall, and -- best of all - offer a really fun way to watch nature's cycle of life, death, and resurrection.

There are a few simple things to remember when making compost. You need a roughly 30-to-1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. Carbon is generally the dry, brown stuff like dead leaves and dry grass clippings. Nitrogen is in the moist, green stuff, such as fresh grass clippings, kitchen waste, and the like. Keep the pile moist, turn it once or twice a week to keep plenty of oxygen in the mix, and enjoy watching as one of earth's most basic life cycles takes place.

Your compost should have a pleasant, earthy smell. If it suddenly takes on an unpleasant smell, turn it right away to get more oxygen to the little critters doing the work. The smell will soon dissipate. Shredding the material to be composted isn't necessary, but does speed up the process some. Before long you'll have nature's perfect fertilizer, ready to be spread back onto the lawn or worked into the garden, and start the process all over again.

By the way, don't waste those dandelions! The greens will be great in salads as long as the weather stays cool.

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